Thursday 14 December 2017

Writers Beware! WH Auden’s 'Minor Devils'

I am reading and enjoying a whole range of 20th century and earlier poetry as a very pleasurable part of my research for my new novel: Lifespan - A World for Alice. I am perpetually surprised, even stunned, by the prescience of poets who hold the future, the present and the past in their synoptic gaze. Great examples of this are the witty, ironic,  Roman poet Ovid, the inimitable, deceptively down to earth, Ted Hughes,  and the all-seeing WH Auden. 

For example:

Extract from Cattivo Tempo written in 1949  by WH Auden

‘Sirocco brings the minor devils:
A slamming of doors
At four in the morning
Announces they are back,
Grown insolent and fat
On cheesy literature
And corny dramas,
Nibbar, demon
Of gaga and bêtise
Tubervillus, demon
Of gossip and spite.

Nibbar to the writing room
Plausibly to whisper
The nearly fine,
The almost true;
Beware of him, poet
Lest, reading over
Your shoulder, he find
What makes him glad,
The manner arch,
The meaning blurred,
 The poem bad.

Tubervillus to the dining room
Intently to listen,
Waiting for his cue; 
Beware of him, friends,
Lest the lest the talk
at his prompting  
Take a wrong turning,
The unbated tongue
In mischief blurt
the half-home-truth
The fun turn ugly,
The jokes hurt.

Thursday 23 November 2017

Perpetual Brainstorms and Creating a Novel from the Inside Out.

Creating something - whether it’s a story or novel,  a poem  or even a painting - involves creativity not just at the beginning but at every stage.

For this writer the perpetual brainstorm that is daily life  blossoms with dozens of emerging ideas, any of which could grow into a new novel, new short story or – more rarely for me, but sometimes - a poem.

My method is to distil the wild chaos of these ideas into the roughest of lists generated by the brainstorm invading my subconscious.

Once this list exists I start to come across - apparently by accident - sources, resources, poems, myths,  anecdotes, functional tasks, smells, plants, costumes others' experinces, which attach themselves like iron filings to  a magnet to one or other of the ideas 

On the list in my book about writing The Romancer: On Being a Writer, I described   this chaos as a kaleidoscope which, when you
make when you shake it, creates endless patterns and shapes that form up into coherent shapes  even stories. (This coherent mass is important the late, great Julia Darling  used to call it the soup.)

Then, from that fertile and febrile subconscious process, characters start to emerge - it could be ‘a man I once knew’, ‘a woman who in some part is like my mother’, ‘a girl I met in prison’, 'a woman who was too fond of walking', 'a woman who was too fond of men', 'the child who had too much anger', 'child who had too much pain.'

 I leave these people bubbling away in their particular kaleidoscopic fashion as I  settle down now to writel

Then I give some attention to what we all – writers and non-writers - know best -  context. Everyone lives through time through time whether there lifespan is 10 years, 70 years, or 110 years.

This understanding time creates a natural which could be built around e.g.  the life of the nation, the succeeding generations of a family, the life of an individual, a plant,animal or an organism. It is marked by such rites of passage – seasons, catastrophes, wars-world, wars-local, birth, death, murder, miracles, marriage, redundancy, illness, bankruptcy, gaining freedom - all  these phenomena function act as rites of passage for the individual: cusps of change in any and every individual life in any society. Further there are unique individual rites of passage through experiences such as abuse, prison, physical injury, or brilliant discovery

Then somehow, like traces of DNA laid on top of each other, there comes to be a match between the kaleidoscope of a unique life and the people participating in it. Effectively this is fiction. In the making this fiction you create a unique – albeit fictional - lifespan with its own story arc which will resonate and be recognised across a whole population of readers,

This is the way a thousand stories have emerged into modern life -  great mythic poems like Ovid’s Metamorphosis, and the creation  myths and fairy tales from every community across the world which all go to illuminate  our  common human ground.  

Then we have the gifted people who consciously address this human miracle and create story magic that crosses across national boundaries - people such as  Lewis Carroll and Hans Andersen, and poets like Ted Hughs and Seamus Heaney. And the more numerous singers who create lyrics, poets  who create poems, writers who create short stories and novelists  who create their novels. 

In the case of this story-teller  - this point is where my own unique novel starts to evolve: I home in on a certain person in my people-scape, a place in my landscape, a stage in a certain lifespan: all these things crystallise my starting point and I feel able to begin to write.

This convoluted process could take an hour, a day, or a year or indeed a lifetime - even while you are doing something quite else -  such as working on the earlier novel or story.

But you do know the point when you need to start writing this particular story. 

After that -  as my writing friend Avril Joy  and I always say  - you must trust the writing. Don’t abandon the creativity when you actually start writing; don’t hamper the writing with fail-safe planning, or vain attempts at  audience- or market-pleasing.

As you write, be sensitive to the surprises and insights arise on the page in your writing: characters who take their turn at  centre stage until one of them demands a permanent place at the centre; you give them names and perhaps change the names if they’re not happy with them.

The form of your story will begin to emerge. I firmly believe that form always follows inspiration.  Your story starts here and takes shape as you write. From time to time you start to look at where you’ve been in your narrative and you begin to get the sense of where you might be going.

It might take a year or so to become conscious of where you’re going and right on to 
finally arrive at a body of work that just could be your novel.

This is the point where you need a   splurge of another kind creativity. First you need to edit the body of your prose into its best literary heart possible. Choice of absolutely the right word in the right place. (Every word a bullet !) The most illuminating metaphorical inferences. The music of the language. The virtue of this creative editing to the best possible prose  we need to take got this is a central and important point.   We need to take this stage for granted:  the writing itself has got to be good.

 The need to import a sense of shape to help  mould the form of your novel is a creative task in itself. You need to ask yourself some questions.

 Perhaps five questions will be enough:

1.    1 What seems to have emerged as the main strand of meanings in your novel?
2.     What is the journey, the arc of change, in the characters you have created within this novel?
3.     Are here underlying themes that have emerged in the writing – that have kind of snuck up on you?
4.     Are there visceral connections between the different stages in the narrative? (It’s worth considering here the nature of continuity, cause and effect, and reiteration and restatement for emphasis.)
5.     Will your readers trust your storytelling to read to the end?

Shaping A World for Alice

In my new novel Lifespan: a World for Alice my focus is on the years between 1941 and 1951   in the lives (it turns out) of seven very vivid people. Clearly the point of visceral and metaphoric connection throughout the novel is very important so that it moves smoothly forward. It needs to be more transparent than its   multi-layered structure i might imply. It   needs to be smooth and well formed to hook itself into the reader’s  mind to become part of his or her own imagination.

I am quite happy to say that I’m just about at this stage with A World For Alice. 

This manuscript has now been drafted;  edited in transcription from my pen and ink written draft and edited. Now it's needs to be shaped into a recognisable, functional novel which will make sense to the reader. I  completes a whole swathe of editing on the screen but then my mind began to scream for a more graphic tool to facilitate this shaping process.

So, I print  the whole novel. It's now in about its eighth draft. I print off all the pages.  Now what I have is a fairly practical task. I have to deal with the matrix of all my characters living their diverse lives through these years and make it a coherent whole. 

I   consider a method described once by the very original Beryl Bainbridge’s. It seems at this point she would print off the whole manuscript and put each chapter separately on a step of her stairs. Then she  could arrange and rearrange the order  of the chapters perhaps inserting new material until  the sequence and the story worked on every level.

 I  am quite attracted to what sounds like a very practical approach but doubt whether the order would survive in this very inhabited house with people running up and down the stairs several times a day.

So I decide  to use Post It notes and stick   them on  a board in order. Each chapter has its own Post-it Note,  colour-coded in relation to which  character’s narrative predominates that particular chapter.  I put these in vertical lines in a kind of order that I can change around as I re-consider sequencing and shaping.  I can write new material to help with this shaping. I am very pleased with first stage this but then overnight the Post-it notes collapse  into a sticky pile on my work table and make no sense at all.

In desperation I find some stickier coloured labels which I can still move around at will, facilitate my effort to make the whole novel smooth and coherent. This method seems to work. 

Now I have all these changes in order and all the incidental editing inserted as I’ve worked through the rearranged chapters yet again.  The next stage is for  the this order and these changes to go back into the printed document  be printed off again. The benefit of good old computer is crucial at this point. Different from the olden days …

 70,000 words. A  good first lifespan in my trilogy. Just needs a bit more polishing. And a bit more. It seems to be working so far. 

Fingers crossed.

I hope my readers will like A World for Alice. No.  I hope they love it.

A girl like a a girl I met in prison elbowed her way into Paulie's Web

Tuesday 17 October 2017

It seems appropriate, after yesterday’s extraordinary red skies, to be writing about a novel which is set after an  apocalypse when cities have been razed, industry destroyed and the countryside blighted.
Amity and The Angel, Sharon Griffiths’ new novel has just such a setting. It is located, very believably, on a remote Scottish island. 

Here, the surviving population, in its efforts to rebuild itself after the catastrophe, has reverted to a mediaeval culture built on self-sufficiency, religious certainties and a rigid social structure where it is taken for granted that women should be submissive and are there to be of service to the men; any independence is frowned on.  Here, extraordinarily, singing and dancing is forbidden, as are books and musical instruments.

I feel that in the present day it is clear that these ideas are  not so much of a ‘fantasy’. Occasionally it seems we could be on the very edge of just such a  post-apocalyptic world.

Sharon Griffiths is ‘on trend’: the world of children’s and young adult literature reefs reflects this feeling. Young people and children are - if anything - more aware of such threats in this generation than in any earlier generation. So it is fitting that Griffiths’ future fiction is labelled a ‘young adult’ novel. I also think, well written and quite plausible as it is, people of any age will enjoy it.

Amity has grown up in this island community unaware of the outside world, listening to myths and stories about what real life used to be, compared to what it is now. Perpetually curious about the outside world, here on the island Amity feels like an outsider herself; she struggles with the mental and physical restrictions and yearns for a freer, more colourful physical and mental life.

Amity’s is aided on her quest in true fairy-tale fashion by her childhood sweetheart, who seems to be weirdly transformed into one of the ‘elders’ who dominate this regressive community. She also has the aid of memory of the tales of her grandmother who actually, ‘wore high heels and lipstick when she was young.

Then she encounters her ‘angel’ on the seashore:  another hunted outsider. From him she learns possible, more equal world where creativity is not wasteful and that singing and dancing can make you happy.

As well as taking us to into a logically imagined world Amity’s Angel falls into the category of rights-of-passage novels favoured by many great writers like William Golding, Mark Twain CS Lewis and JK Rowling.

I think this, her third novel, will delight, entertain and inform Sharon Griffiths’ wide range of readers - perhaps more used to the witty social and political commentary in her many columns and articles in the Eastern Daily Press, Northern Echo and the Guardian. I have a feeling that this novel fits her worldview in that it deals with her insight into the of politics and vagaries of family and society and the present concerns about human survival’

And Amity and the Angel isa very good and entertaining read! It does read like the first in a series of novels about Amity. 

I do hope so. 

 Highly recommended.

Wednesday 11 October 2017

David Almond and a Life in Short Stories

My highly literate reading friend Hugh brought in a copy of David Almond’s fascinating collection 
Half a Creature from the Sea; a life in Short Stories.

This will be discussed at the next meeting of Hugh’s Reading group in Spennymoor. I was instantly interested as David is an old friend and colleague of mine. (I remember seeing the first manuscript of his fabulous prizewinning novel Skellig.)’ In my opinions David is the most significant writer of his generation. Digging into the real, the surreal  and imaginative truths of children’s lives in the Twentieth Century.

 His writing workshops, like his stories, are simple and complex, ambitious and accessible.

I asked my friend  Hugh what he thought  of Half a Creature from the Sea; a life in Short Stories. He loved it. 'These stories are enchanting, highly  imagined; an  extraordinary  mixture of realism and magic. And  there is an invaluable accompanying narrative linking them to his life: how stories are an interesting blend of preparation and inspiration.'


Extract from David Almond’s book of short stories       Half a Creature from the Sea.harry miller’s run

I have quoted it here in full because it is an experience we shared when I was writer in Residence at Low Newton Women's Prison and I appreciate the truth of what he says here and his mentioning Avril and me. We had many visiting writers during my time there and he was the best.

Page 106 “… to prepare to write the story I went to watch the run. That morning I’d arranged to give a writing workshop at low Newton women’s prison in Durham along with the writers Wendy Robertson and Avril Troy who ran the (creative writing) program there.
When I arrived I was guided through a series of gates and doors by uniformed prison officer. Each one was unlocked, opened, then shut and locked again. Keys jangling steel clanged.
I was taken to a library and with a few arm chairs and tables and it. Then the women came in. They were shy at first, may be suspicious, but they soon relaxed. I talked about my life and my writing.
We did a couple of quick imagination exercises, made a a few first scribbles. Some of the women began to tell me about their own lives in childhood. They hinted at the difficulties deprivation and abuses they’d endured they talked about the constriction of being in this place, about the fellowship they try to develop with each other, and the inevitable frictions and fights. Many of them wanted to write about themselves, set to to somehow turn their lives into coherent stories.
 I said that fictionalising in your life can make it seem more real and can make difficult personal experiences more bearable. We scribbled again, and began to shake the scribbles into narratives. Before I left one of the women suddenly said,  ‘ I’m like you David. My childhood was like yours.’
She laughed.
’And look where I’ve ended up!’ she said.
I was led back through the clanging doors. At the exit Avril told me that there was much more the women could have said.
‘ They’ve had some awful journeys,’ she said. “

  Afternote: My book  Paulie' Web  is the  creative outcome of mytime in Low Newton  over three years, as Writer in Residence

Book on Amazon

Saturday 7 October 2017

The Paradox of Researching for fiction

  Researching a substantial novel set in a certain time means reading, checking out,  exploring the unavoidable facts of those times - a world war for instance, or  the eruption of a volcano. Unless you're writing parody. These substantial and real events have to be right,  fixed and immovable. To ignore them, exaggerate them or fantasise with them or create fantasies from them requires a different process. Perhaps an a-historical process  

But what about the more fluid cultural social and sensual world which existed around these immovable moments of historical fact? These are elements which will make your historical account or your historical novel unique and at the same time universal to your reader.

If I were making a story about say Pompeii I'd be referring to myth and song as well as to to the destruction of a stone built environment. I did this with The Pathfinder my  novel about post-Roman Celtic Britain. To build a real world where people lived and breathed I had to take note of poetry, song and myth and the many artefacts and articles that characterised  those times 

I hope I succeeded.

But in more recent times the monuments of fact and history are embedded in our meta-world of fiction story speculation personification poetry and the personal fiction of diary memoir and now film and expansive, often exaggerated, press content.  

I like to access  the perceptions and the sensibilities of a certain time is through its art and – a favourite of mine – it's popular fiction.

As my present novel Lifespan  takes place from 1941 to the year 2000 I have a multiplicity of twentieth century sources in terms of pure fiction and biography and autobiography. It has been said many times that biography and autobiography - being selections from lives - are in their own way categories of fiction. It can  be said that they are also categories of history and in that carry a certain kind of truth. So the selectivity and possible bias in such sources as biography and autobiography and even diaries make a kind of meta-fiction which is still important to my kind of research

Of course this means for people like me the piles of books to be read and noted  grows day by day. Add to that key Internet sites and this adds up to a lot of research to absorb in order to imagine and freely write historical novels that have the ring of truth about them.

Such books and sources a allow the researcher to access the distinctive subtleties of social context and the sensibilities, the assumptions and attitudes of the varied characters she is imagining and growing within the narrative.

Julian McLaren Ross

 In some places the line between fact and fiction blurs rather satisfactorily,  leaving an historical trail from fact to fiction. I have just discovered that Julian McLaren Ross, whose book  - Memoirs of the 40s - I am reading alongside his  biography  Fear  and Loathing in Fitzrovia by Paul Willettsthis is the man who was  -  in terms of distinctive, louche manners and mannerisms - mimicked by  Olivia Manning  for her dissolute character Prince Yakimov in her Fortunes of War Trilogy. This means, of course that I have to re-read these books...The jury is out as to whether this is a true portrait rather than a caricature.

Olivia Manning

Even so it does demonstrate  how that the true nature of unique characters has impact  on the imagined characters in the literature  of their contemporary world.  This can happen with fiction writers writing in and of their own time like Rosamond Lehman, Graham Greene, Elizabeth Jane Howard, Elizabeth David, Elizabeth Bowen and many more can give us clues to contemporaneous habits, standards, speech modes and values  of a time even if our own invented characters  emerge from a different inspirational source. 

Rosamund Lehmann

In this lies the imaginative freedom of historical fiction which allows present-day readers with their own modern  habits, standards and values, access to the minds of and lives of people in earlier times. So they enjoy reading fiction in a different way from the way they enjoy reading history. 

Wednesday 20 September 2017

New W.I.P.. After the bombing and in a safer place

Work In Process for the first book in my trilogy 
Book One: Embarking 

 Collecting the Pictures

1945 June 4th  'Labour will need a sort of Gestapo to rule,' says Churchill.

(Maggie gave birth to Alice in during the bombing of South Shields. They are now in a safer place...)

Now Alice, we’re gunna see your pretty picture,’ says Maggie, unbuckling Alice from her harness, leaving the big pram outside the photographer’s shop.  The bell tinkles and Eli Mason looks up from the far counter where he is wrapping a big picture in brown paper and string. He looks up and smiles. ‘Ah!Mrs… er  Miss … You’ve come for your photographs!’
She smiles. ‘Just call me Maggie,’ she says. ‘Yes. We’re looking forward to seeing them aren’t we, Alice? 
Alice makes her mouse squeak in response and Mr Mason laughs He puts an envelope on the near counter. ‘There you are. Good job,  though I say it myself,’
Maggie leans over to get a closer look.  ‘Amazing. Just perfect Mr Mason.’  She has tears in her eyes. ‘She looks so much … herself.’’
Mr Mason smiles ‘That’s what we want from our photographs. People looking like their best selves. Especially these days.’ He pushes a mahogany frame towards her. ‘Choose the best picture and put it in this frame.’ For free,
Maggie puts her hand on it and hesitates,.
‘It’s a present,’ he says. ‘For Alice.’
Maggie smiles, relieved. She only has the money for the photos in her purse.
He wraps the photos and the frame and - after protesting – takes  the money for the photos from Maggie. ‘Well, if I must.’
She tucks the package into the pram basket and makes to go. Mr Mason puts up a hand. ‘I don’t know if you’re working, er … Maggie?’
‘Well, I work four nights in the bar at The Welsh House. I'm staying there.’ She smiles. ‘Singing for my supper.’
He stares at her, ‘As a matter of fact I need a hand here in the shop. The women are signing on at the factory and the men are in the army or at the pit,. Much better money of course. I told you I’ve lost  Bernie  didn’t I?’ He hesitates  ‘Would you be interested to work here? Maggie, times to suit you?’
Maggie smiles faintly. ‘Its wonderful to watch you work Mr Mason.. But I know nothing about cameras, or taking photographs.’
He smiles ‘I can teach you. Took young Bernie straight out of elementary school. In six months he  was nearly as good as  me.’ His smile fades. ‘Not that that’s doing him much good now  at the bottom of the Atlantic.’
Maggie finds herself nodding. ‘Now Alice is at school perhaps I can make the time.’ He is delighted, bustling to find his calendar to arrange when she can start. She is outside the shop and walking down the street with Alice in her pushchair before she realises that she had said yes to Mr Mason because he was so sad about his lost boy.

Thursday 14 September 2017

Work in Progress

I'm just about completing my first novella in

my Lifespan Trilogy:

Embarking:1941 - 1951

Here we are about halfway through the novella. Lou has arrived in London home from four years in a military prisoner of war camp in Germany.

'...In the early weeks of his time in the hostel Lou gets into the habit of turning out every morning and wandering the streets - not quite exploring, but throwing himself into the tide of city street life and seeing where he comes ashore.

He gets into the habit of taking his board and sheaf of papers, finds a place to sit and concentrates on seeing and drawing people who crossed his path. Survivors all, he now thinks. In  drawing them he manages to avoid contact with them and concentrate on them at the same time. Now and then, after drawing a person Lou will follow them to their bus stop to see where they are going. Islington. Camden. Holloway. City. Whitechapel. 

This is a world, not just a city. A whole world. A universe.

One afternoon he follows two men: one heavily built with a flowing coat, the other smaller and narrowly built, wearing Cavalry twill trousers  and a neat trilby over a mane of startling silver hair. The men gesticulate as they walk and talk. Lou lengthens his step to get closer to them, to hear what they are saying.

He follows the men up an alley into the side entrance of a public house, crowded with noisy people, most of them standing three deep at the bar. He wrestles his way through them and buys himself a half-pint of cloudy beer. He spies an empty corner table and sits down, taking his board and papers from a deep inside pocket and placing them carefully on the stained table, not unlike the table in the middle of Hut16 in Stalag Eden...'

Hope it is catching your interest... 

Monday 11 September 2017

Back on Song, Spreading My Wings Again

This last year has been a bit of a health challenge so sadly I have not  got to comment on my blog or my Twitter to keep in touch with some great people who think about the world and write and read and let me know what they are thinking. 

Thankfully things are back to normal more or less normal now  and I am reading and writing at last inside my normal writing rhythm  and am two thirds of the way through very the first novella ‘Embarking 1941-1951’ in a trilogy called Lifespan which takes place between 1941 AD to 2,000  AD. Ambitious?   Moi?

So you might say in these months I have only been talking to, and creating for, myself, and that has had to be enough. But now I am about to spread my wings and start to sing again. Can’t tell you how good that feels. Like many writers, writing is not only what I do but who I am. Without writing I am nothing.

Regular readers here will know I am a great champion of the computer as a writer’s tool. It’s there alongside the Internet, the network of Libraries, story telling among friends and family, and a lifelong, well developed Imagination muscle.

However the the longest lasting and the most unique tools are my ink pens and my spine-bound notebooks. I have more than forty of these. I can pick up any notebook and revisit the sheer adventure of building that story which was published ten years ago.walking alongside my  invented characters and following them wherever they lead me. into darkness and light. 

I was wonderful to hear writer Patrick McCabe  on BBC’s Book Club describing his process and insisting that the progress of his novel Butcher Boy came from inside the writing process  and how surprised he was when certain very dramatic things happened. I can very much identify with that.

Herein lies the originality and the energy of any good novel,  This is the antithesis of many present day novel - certainly  decently  written  but rather formulaic and targeted  at the widest market where the first principle is profit. This is not to denigrated my fellow  writers at all. Publishing seems to me to be exhaustively and exhaustingly  market-driven with books seen as products rather than works of art and skill.

But we write on.
When I was halfway through  Embarking 1941-1957 I stopped to make a list
of my characters – names, ages etc, This is so I can keep these imagined facts consistent like the continuity girl on a file. The list came to 25 characters, names and occupations. Admittedly there are only six or seven front line characters. But who knows where they will lead me?  Only time will tell.

More soon …


Sunday 2 July 2017

Holiday Reading: Well! Is it a race?

 I returned much refreshed from my recent very welcome holiday with two favourite people with whom I share a good deal, including a joy in reading.

We all have busy working lives, so time spent in easy sunshine beside a Mediterranean lagoon is to be  relished. Truly the thought of a week reading at leisure in the clear southern light becomes a distinct and positive pleasure, even for Mme Lickedspoon and me   who read and write for a living. For us, reading of all kinds – even fiction - is also work or some kind of research
But it doesn’t feel like work here in the bright French sunshine, overlooking the silvery lagoon. No hurry. No politics. No commitments. Just the pleasures of the place and the language in the air and on the page.  Then there is the communication with each other: the deep breathing, the smiling, and the relaxing. And the food

As the weeks went on I became interested in the fact that the three of us read with equal enjoyment but at very different speeds.

M. Lickedspoon  is not a writer and doesn’t read fiction as part of his busy day job. On holiday he made his way through the most books in the three weeks. He does read for leisure though, in his normal life. Among other books he likes thrillers and detective stories and easily moves between Kindle and paper forms. I thought you might be interested in his impressive list of books read over three weeks.

1. Blackwater Lake - Maggie James (Kindle)
2. All Kinds of Dead - (Inspector Carlyle Book 11) - James Craig (Kindle)
3. Hunted - (Detective Mark Heckenburg, Book 5) - Paul Finch (Actual Book)
4. Strangers - (Detectiv Lucy ClayburnBook 1) - Paul Finch (Actual Book)
5. Stalkers (Detective Mark Heckenburg, Book 1) - Paul Finch (Kindle)
6. Sacrifice (Detective Mark Heckenburg, Book 2) - Paul Finch (Kindle)
7. Stop for Breakfast (Augill Castle Book 2) - Simon Temple-Bennett (Actual Book)
8. The Killing Club (Detective Mark Heckenburg, Book 3) - Paul Finch (Kindle)
9. Guapa - Saleem Haddad (Kindle)
10. Dead Man Walking (Detective Mark Heckenburg, Book 4) - Paul Finch (Kindle)

This total is an improvement on that of Mme Lickedspoon and myself  - the two of us who write for a living. Between us in those weeks we read – and very much enjoyed - a total of four books and one Kindle:

1.   Commonwealth: Ann Patchett 
2.   Hot Milk: Debora Levey
3.   The Vanishing Futurist: Charlotte Hobson
4.   The Burgess Boys: Elizabeth Strout (See my comment on this novel in my last post on Lifetwicetasted>
5.   New edition of Jilly Cooper’s whimsical; Class – read on Kindle by both of us. But this doesn’t count as it is better labelled work/research.

I’ve been wondering if I could come up with an explanation for this gap - this difference.

Some Possible Reasons?

·        We all agreed it wasn’t a competition.*
·        Madame L and I cannot resist enthusiastic discussions - on the balcony or in the café on the quayside - about what we’re reading. Time consuming of course. But then, for once, we did have the time.
·        Madame L had a commissioned article to write. So she did have some work to do.
·         As for me I spent a good time listening to Hilary Mantel’s clever, insightful Rieth Lectures – even making notes. This was surely research but it was the same time totally enjoyable – the line between work and leisure entirely blanked out.  Then because we were there we had to make time on the balcony to discuss the importance of Mantel’s ideas to any writer.

Anyway when I got home - fully rested and inspired by France as well as Madame Lickedspoon and Hilary Mantel - I rushed to order Jean Rhys’s luminous Dark Sargasso sea, (which had come up in a discussion). I also ordered Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety, set in the French Revolution. 

The books came yesterday and I spent the day curled up reading the whole of The Wide Sargasso Sea – a brilliant slender volume of a hundred and twenty pages. Mantel’s novel is a heavier tome at eight hundred and twenty pages and could, I suspect,  take much longer than a day to read.

Portrait of the charismatic Camille Demoulins.

Perhaps another holiday? Another balcony?

OK! Monsieur Lickedspoon definitely won!


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